Original Release Date: November 27, 2002
Runtime: 95 Minutes
Directed By: Ron Clements and Jon Musker
Notable Actors: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, Emma Thompson, David Hyde Pierce, Martin Short and Michael Wincott
When sitting down to watch a film that, in 2014, was called one of the biggest box office flops of all time, I expected the worst. This was a film I had never seen, which in this project is rare. I was ready for an epic fail of a film, especially after the awesomeness that was Lilo & Stitch. What I got was definitely not the worst film I’ve ever seen, and certainly not the best ever either. Treasure Planet is a curious film which seems to have bitten off more than it can chew. So sit back as we unravel the interesting little mess that is Treasure Planet.
I actually mentioned Treasure Planet in a much earlier article when it was pitched as Treasure Island in Space by Ron Clements all the way back in 1985. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the head of Disney animation at the time, had no interest in the project and passed on it. Clements and Musker had dreams of being able to move a camera through an animated shot the same way that directors like James Cameron or Steven Spielberg were doing at the time. The fact that the film was delayed until tech caught up meant that they were able to make there dreams a reality.
As production began, there was an understanding that this would be a sci-fi story with more life and more color than sci-fi films typically had. They created an idea of the ‘etherium’ in order to give outer space areas a sort of atmosphere as they felt that having the characters wear space suits would greatly take away from the characterization. And speaking of characterization, the only voice actor in the film who had done voice work before was David Hyde Pierce. The directors wanted the natural voices of the actors, which caused them to find newer voice talent in order to avoid ‘character’ voices.
In talking about this film, I want to talk about the good, because despite this film being an epic failure, there is a lot more good here than bad. The film is drop dead gorgeous. It has aged terrifically well and every bit of scenery shines with beauty. Not only this, but the world just bursts with creativity. A scene early on in which we zoom in on the moon to find that it is actually a space station really exemplified the imagination of the film for me. The world feels very alive and a lot of care has been put into making everything feel living and breathing. This doesn’t feel like an artificial world. It feels lived in.
The characters are equally creative and all look like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Jim Hawkins starts out much more troubled than in the book but this gives him plenty of room to grow and its a lot of fun to watch him mature. A character that really sticks out is David Hyde Pierece as Delbert Doppler. Delbert has just about every hilarious line in the film and I was surprised to find that I was often laughing out loud at his pompousness. Emma Thompson voices a fantastic Captain Amelia and its great to see the gender roles swapped here in order to create a diverse cast. The only character that strikes me as downright awful is Martin Short’s B.E.N. who is absolutely obnoxious. He yells and constantly makes noise which causes problems to happen. I longed for him to be shut down…or crushed to death.
The trouble this film has is that its often so focused on the plot that it has a hard time really diving into the characters. Much like Atlantis before it, the film has an epic sweeping story but forgets to really develop anyone outside of Jim and John Silver, our villain. Silver is great as a villain and its good to watch the father/son dynamic here. But let’s be honest, the really cool part of silver is his robotic arm which changes to all sort of different gadgets. This is one of the coolest parts of the film and instantly catches the attention of the audience. That being said, we never really get to know much about him.
Treasure Planet struggles with the idea that just because a character looks interesting, doesn’t mean they ARE interesting. Everything looks great, but push back that curtain and you’ll find a film of shallow characters and a plot that trudges along simply because it is following the book that came before it. In the end, we know about as much about Silver as we did at the start and the only character that really grows in any capacity is Jim. Morph is adorable and Delbert is hilarious but they really are one note in the end, providing little emotional investment, especially after Lilo and Stitch which was all about emotional investment.
Despite generally positive reviews, Treasure Planet tanked at the Box Office, a subject of not being very relatable to the audience. There is a lot of great artistry here, but there’s not a lot to get invested in. At the end of the day, it plays a bit like a slightly deeper Michael Bay film, pointedly moving from one big action sequence to the next, with very little character growth in between. Make no mistake, this is a very cool film and it deserves to be seen, but coming after Lilo and Stitch simply makes the flaws of this movie stand out even more.
Now that we’ve got all that sci-fi out of the way, we’ll be taking a step back as Disney goes through a hugely transitional period. Bear brothers, scared chickens and cows abound as we head into a new era of Disney films. It’s gonna get interesting. As a head’s up, I’ll have an article up this Sunday from Vault Disney, but then we’ll be taking a break so that I can focus the blog on the Disney trip. Rest assured, there will be lots of content over the next few weeks, we’ll just be watching less films.
Next Up: Brother Bear
* * *
NOTE: Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own. That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.
ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head overHERE and check it out!
Categories: Vault Disney